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Good evening, afternoon, or whatever time it happens to be there, ladies and gents! I happen to be Andy, who happens to be a freelance web designer, musician, writer, and whatnot.

Roman Catholic, student of tabletop gaming, and someday soon I'll have my own designs in the field!

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Raise Dead! Raise Dead!

Ahem. I really, really hope that nobody got spoilered by that picture. But, honestly, if you're gonna be playing fantasy RPGs (which I assume pretty much all of you are), and you didn't know about *points up*, you deserved to be spoiled.

I suppose, by way of note, I should add that I am a full-fledged Roman Catholic, and so I will be speaking on religious topics with no apology. ;) Not to mention, it just seemed terribly apropos...I finally figured out a good post topic for something going up around Easter. Okay, okay, maybe it's a little cliché, but oh well. Here's to nothing.

Fenix Down, Fenix Up
As much as player resurrections seem to be commonplace in a certain *cough*3EandBeyondD&D*cough* roleplaying game, I don't really recall seeing a whole lot of them in literature. Comic books aside, because those folks never seem to stay dead for long. Beyond the obvious Biblical people (like Lazarus and, well, Jesus), an allegorical lion, and a certain wizard, a great many people in narratives tend to stay dead. Especially in non-fictional narratives. So, why the disconnect?

The very first thing that people complain about, when the topic of resurrection comes up, is the system. "It's too easy to bring people back from the dead. It's a revolving door!" To that, I say, you're looking at the wrong part. The issue is not the system; the system is merely an enabler. If the system doesn't readily allow resurrection, the only thing it actually does is suppressing most players' wishes. No, I think that the frequency of resurrections in some games has to do with another factor altogether.

That's right: why? That is the biggest question when it comes to resurrections in any sort of story. If someone is raised from the dead, there's always a reason. Jesus was raised in triumph over death, to complete the divine smackdown of sin's stranglehold. Gandalf was raised because his task was unfinished, because the Valar weren't letting him get away so easily. ;) But in RPGs? It's a simpler reason: the player doesn't want to make a new character.

In reality, the idea that a character would want to be resurrected stretches disbelief a little. They're on the threshold of a fulfilled life (unless the afterlife they're headed for is really, really unpleasant, and they want to escape it, but that's a strong enough reason for a rez in my book...could make a nice quest hook...), so why would they troop on back to what is essentially boot camp and field exercises?

Well, there's actually a few more potential character motivations, such as "I still have a task to finish" or "I can't abandon ______ to their fate", but I'm going to guess that by and large the main motivation is by the player: "I like this character, so I'm going to keep them around any way I can." We don't like losing a character. It feels like losing the game.

So, Now What?
Here comes the hard part of this column: I try and figure out what I can suggest to fix this little problem. Obviously, the quick-and-dirty fix is to make resurrection hard or ineffective. Maybe it can only bring back phantoms, or perhaps it requires a massive sacrifice of some sort. Of course, "sacrifice" can only go so far, as players are generally willing to make any in-game sacrifice they are allowed to in order to achieve their goal, unless they are massively invested into the world and its characters. Don't count on that, however.

On my part, however, I would rather try and tackle the problem at the source, giving a player incentive to move along with a new character. One of the best story-related solutions I've seen is the Pendragon route. In that game, when your character dies, you go back to a family tree that you've been building up, and your next-in-line (generally the eldest son) steps up to take your place. The new character slots right into the new party, because of that pre-existing connection: it's the old war buddy's kid!

You could extend this to any number of connections. As long as the new character has some relationship to the old character, you have a ready-made continuity with the old guy. This just means that you have to build up that character by writing in relationships before the game begins, and then by establishing them as characters in the setting. This also tends to work best in a system where characters don't advance at a terribly fast rate, because otherwise you have to keep the new character leveled up accordingly (which can strain disbelief), lest they fall behind the rest.

Played well, though, it can lead to a very rewarding experience, especially when you consider that the new character will have relationships of their own, and if death continues to find characters, the composition of the party will slowly but definitely evolve in new and unexpected ways.

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